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Driving at Night in the Fog: Strategies for Beginning a Novel

  E.L. Doctorow said this in a Paris Review Writers at Work interview: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I’m sure, like me, you’ve felt that fog as you contemplate starting a new project. Stephen King said, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” For novelists, the journey through that fog can seem endless and, quite frankly, intimidating. Here, then, are five ways to open a novel along with what each requires to be successful.   The [...]

By |2020-01-13T06:38:16-05:00January 13th, 2020|Blog|0 Comments

New Year, New Writing: Tips for Moving Ahead

Here we are at the start of another year, and though the winter weather has yet to be harsh here in central Ohio, we can safely assume that it will eventually slap us with cold and snow. We know this because we’ve lived through it before and will surely do so again. Each flip of the calendar—each sunrise, even—gives us a chance to rededicate ourselves to our writing lives. We know those lives are made up of peaks and valleys. We have days when we feel the writing is going well, and we have days when the words just won’t [...]

By |2020-01-06T08:09:22-05:00January 6th, 2020|Blog|2 Comments

On the New Year

Something about the current state of things in our country invites me to share this post from a few years ago, updated a tad to account for the passing of time. When I was a boy, it was my family’s New Year’s Eve tradition to gather for an oyster soup supper, followed by a rousing round of Rook, a trick-taking card game, that pitted one set of partners against another. We played a lot of Rook in those days. My father and my uncles were competitive, and the games were full of big talk and big egos. One uncle in [...]

By |2019-12-30T08:27:02-05:00December 30th, 2019|Uncategorized|4 Comments

To Cherish the World: A Christmas Wish

I was back in my native southeastern Illinois last week, and I happened to have a little dust-up with a stranger at the local fitness center. Let’s say we should have agreed to disagree and left it at that, but we didn’t. She, a very nice elderly lady, broached a subject she shouldn’t have brought up if she really wanted to know my opinion. I tried to warn her. I said, “I’m not sure you want to start this conversation with me.” Nevertheless, she persisted. She was soft-spoken and polite. Her white hair was neatly coifed, and she reminded me [...]

By |2019-12-23T08:06:24-05:00December 23rd, 2019|Uncategorized|6 Comments

Are You Writing What Matters?

My father used to tell me, when I was a small boy who liked to think he knew a thing or two about a thing or two, “You’re just talking to hear yourself roar.” Or sometimes he’d use a variation, “You’re just talking to hear your head rattle.” I’m remembering these sayings here at the end of another semester of teaching as well at a time later in my life than makes me comfortable to consider. It’s a time when I watch another group of my students entering their adult lives. It’s a time when I begin to wonder just [...]

By |2019-12-15T19:36:12-05:00December 15th, 2019|Blog|2 Comments

Story Starters: Some Prompts

Often ideas for stories can come from things we overhear people say, things that make us curious. For example, I once heard a woman say, “I’m just a drunk girl in stilettos.” Okay, I confess the woman who said it would one day be my wife. The actual facts of the story don’t matter, What matters is the instant I heard her say that, I thought, hmm. . . “Drunk Girl in Stilettos.” Now there’s an interesting title for a story. I set out to write one that would be completely different from the kind of story you’d expect from [...]

By |2019-12-09T07:20:04-05:00December 9th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

Black Friday: What If?

Cathy and I were in Home Depot on Black Friday, looking at items for our front porch Christmas display, when an elderly woman with an empty shopping cart said to me, “I used to play Santa Claus.” It was a dreary night, cold and damp, but there in Home Depot surrounded by the artificial trees with their bright white lights and the animated Santa that delighted children when it moved its head and spoke to them, and the good cheer beginning the holiday season, it was almost cozy. Cathy and I were frustrated, though, because we’d spent the day decorating, [...]

By |2019-12-02T07:38:51-05:00December 2nd, 2019|Blog|0 Comments

Trouble Resonates: How to Use It in Fiction

Please don’t tell the folks who sign my checks at The Ohio State University, but my wife Cathy has always been a fan of the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team. She’s always wanted to see them in person rather than on television, and today, thanks to a game here at OSU, this was the day. So we went to the game, and we had good seats, and it was a close game until the fourth quarter and then UConn was able to pull away at the end. After the game, Cathy and I stopped at one of our favorite [...]

By |2019-11-25T03:24:55-05:00November 25th, 2019|Blog|2 Comments

August, 1974

I was eighteen years old the summer Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. I was between my freshman and sophomore years of college, and I worked as a sales clerk at Sherman’s Department Store in Olney, Illinois. Each afternoon around three o’clock, my manager sent me to the drug store across the street to buy him a pack of cigarettes (Kent Deluxe 100s) and an afternoon newspaper. I brought the cigarettes and the paper and his change back to him, and then I went on about the business of straightening stacks of sport shirts and trousers, whisking a feather duster over [...]

By |2019-11-18T07:24:33-05:00November 18th, 2019|Blog|10 Comments

Urgent Motivation: Putting Your Characters into Motion

Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, Olive, Again, begins like this: In the early afternoon on a Saturday in June, Jack Kennison put on his sunglasses, got into his sports car with the top down, strapped the seatbelt over his shoulder and across his large stomach, and drove to Portland—almost an hour away—to buy a gallon of whiskey rather than bump into Olive Kitteridge at the grocery store here in Crosby, Maine. Or even that other woman he had seen twice in the store as he stood holding his whiskey while she talked about the weather. The weather. That woman—he could not [...]

By |2019-11-11T07:49:34-05:00November 11th, 2019|Blog|0 Comments